Oh, my... THE place I learned the bulk of my midwifery skills... Casa de Nacimiento in El Paso, Texas, is closing on October 1, 2011.
Even though I haven't been there to work in several years, I still think of the place fondly and during trips across the country, always make a point to say hi to everyone.
It's an other-worldly place that, I swear, is built on an ancient burial ground. I've never gossiped so much in my entire life as I did when at Casa. It was almost like I was possessed by a teenage girl's intellect when it came to yacking about the others behind their backs. I did better once I realized I was doing it, but the atmosphere was totally ripe for it. Nice to know I can keep up with the Real Housewives of El Paso. sigh Not my finer moments there.
The odd energy of the place embraced every student (intern) that walked through the door. Many of us called it Birth Boot Camp; a place where there is no sleep, subversive hazing, stupid food (choices), no car and hardly ever stepping outside except to grab a mom with a baby between her legs or to escort a new mom and baby to the waiting car of a distant relative. I remember one stint where I didn't go outside for six weeks! I finally went to see "The Secret Garden" at the movie theater and sobbed the entire time, releasing so much tension, as well as crying with relief at being in air conditioning. Swamp cooler, my ass. That thing didn't do shit to cool any of us off.
I was there July-October 1993 and then again late 2001, most of 2002 and a tiny bit of 2003. During the three months in 1993, I attended 90 births and caught 30 babies. I cannot fathom how little I had to have slept! During the other dates, I was the Primary or Resident at about 300 births, finally being able to teach the new Interns; I loved teaching! (Love... present tense.) I remember being woken up with someone opening the door to the blackened, silent room, and screaming, "BIRTH!!!!" and slamming the door again. There was the moment of deciding: Do I run to the birth? Or do I roll over and go back to sleep. More often than not, it was run, pj's on, robe sometimes in hand, and filing in to lean against the back wall, witnessing the beauty of birth over and over and over again.
I always wondered why Casa women delivered on their backs, but my homebirth clients rarely got in a bed until well after the birth. One of those position-by-suggestion things I came to shrug about and know that it was easier for inexperienced hands to catch and for the experienced midwives to guide the newer students to an intact perineum and a breathing baby.
I have so many stories about my time there, some will have to wait for awhile before I can spill those beans, but others are simply hilarious because of their absurdity.
One of my favorites was when I was helping a mama labor, walking with her, following her with the big silver placenta bowl because she kept barfing. My one clue that I could be a midwife long before I considered it was that I don't have issues with body fluids. People can poop or barf right on me and it wouldn't make me flinch. So, I hung out with this lady since the other student on gagged every time the mom puked in the bowl. Whatever. So, during one of the mom's heaving, from somewhere in the universe, I suddenly started gagging and there was nowhere for me to go, so I started throwing up in the bowl - with the laboring mom! Both of us started laughing between our heaving; I'm still laughing now.
Another was the Spanish translation gaffe that has followed me forever. Most of the students (who are not all women, by the way) came to Casa speaking no Spanish whatsoever. I, on the other hand, was just shy of an AA in Spanish, so I had a pretty good command of the school-type Spanish. Talking with people however, is a whole different story. And mix in there, the dialects of different regions of Mexico represented and you have a world ripe for miscommunication. However, not only had I been to Casa in 1993, speaking great Spanish after I left, but I also worked in Orlando for a couple of years speaking Spanish to migrant women (my interviews were in Spanish and my one job was all in Spanish) and I spent time with my Cuban family, finally talking to them in their native language... something I had never done before. So you'd think after all that, I could hardly make any mistakes. Not so fast, oh, chuckling one!
A dad paced outside the room where his wife had just had a baby; he was waiting until the suturing was complete and the baby cleaned up before he went back in. I poked my head in to check the progress and they were still suturing mom's perineum, so I said to the dad, "Todavia, estan cocinando la vagina." He looked at me funny as all get out and asked, "CociENDo?" "Si," I said and wandered over to the house next door where the students were living while they attended Casa. Making dinner, I grabbed the pan and Rice-a-Roni and started cooking it. I spoke so much Spanish at Casa, I dreamed in Spanish and most of my self-talk was in Spanish, too. So, I'm cooking my Rice-a-Roni, saying, "Estoy cocinando... cociNANdo?!"COCINANDO. Oh, my god. I was COOKINGmy Rice-a-Roni... the same way I told the dad the midwife was COOKING his wife's vagina before he could go in and see her.
Cocinando la vagina. I had to have said that phrase 100 times to family members. I laughed and laughed and laughed about that bizarre mistake. What a nut.
So many memories.
I've wanted to go back to Casa several times. Have said I'd live there if it weren't for kids and family. I was a weird one who loved El Paso. I loved going to Hueco Tanks with the other students. Loved the new Mall. Loved the one and only health-food store (what's its name? Sunshine something?). Had my first Johnny Carino there. Lived on State Line BBQ. Made life-long friends as well as dealt with evil assholes who made my life miserable there. One in particular took a screwdriver to my $600 long lens. I thought I was going to lose my mind over that incident. I broke my toe (accidently) kicking the brick bottom of a chair in the dark and experienced the worst fat-oriented medical care at the local hospital. In 1993, my kids came and stayed with me for a week, sleeping and playing in the classroom. (Shhh, don't tell anyone!) I remember them doing cartwheels for hours on end.
Shoulder dystocias, cord prolapse, placental abruptions, oh my! I got so good at prenatals, I could do efficient ones in all of six minutes... complications taking only two or three more. (One of the best things about being fluent in Spanish.) Catching babies in the exam rooms. Discovering fetal demises at 38 weeks. Helping women who had traipsed through the filthy, contaminated Rio Grande "River". Meeting a woman at 10 centimeters and filling out her Registration paperwork while she breastfed her first baby. Taking Polaroids and pinning them on the bulletin board in the lobby. Being First On at 3am, nothing going on and sitting at the desk at the front door, studying or writing down our statistics in our pink books. Begging for our first First On and then when we got there, being terrified we'd lose a mom or baby on our shift. Not being able to find the cervix and going to the Licensed Midwife to whine about it and being told, "It's in there. Don't come out until you find it." Having a baby with low heart tones and running to tell the LM... she looking at you... oh, alright, looking at ME... and asking (for the umpteenth time), "Did you turn her on her side?" Duh. I know to do that now.
So many memories. So, so many. I will miss Casa terribly, but am very glad there are so many previous Interns and midwives I can reminisce with. Don't lose touch, sister midwives. I miss you already.